If the band name looks foreign to you (which I would be pleasantly surprised by), it’s simply a name change. If the record title seems long, it’s because it is. If you don’t know who to call… well, listen to “Track One, Side A”, which is probably one of the best songs of 2015. His name is Jade Lilitri (or, if you’re familiar with the band State Lines, Jonathan Dimitri), guitarist/vocalist of the band formerly known as osoosooso, now known as the slightly more grammatical Oso Oso. Either way, there’s two or three bears involved, it just depends who you’re talking to. Now I’m not going to claim an ultimate music hipster status and say that I’ve known the promise of Oso Oso since the beginning, because that’s not true. Luckily for me and my eardrums, I happened to receive an email from Soft Speak’s press contact in late April with a promo of this album and I immediately fell in love with it.
Jade Lilitri’s writing persona may be encased in mystery, but it is quite obvious from the songs on ‘Real Stories of True People Who Kind of Looked Like Monsters’ that he is a genius when it comes to pop-influenced songwriting. If State Lines focuses on the edgier side of Jon, then Oso Oso sure wavers over into clearer waters inside of Jade. I love this tactic, as it allows for each band to own their personal identity, even with the same physical person handling the songwriting duties. That being said, the latter is no stranger to crafting absolute punk-bangers such as the late bloomer of “This Must Be an Entrance”, one of my favorites on the record. So which side do I prefer? From the play counts in my iTunes, Oso Oso is definitely winning due to their ability to embrace the absolute best parts of pop and punk without succumbing to the pitfalls that each suffer from all-too-easily.
It all starts with a single, lightly crunched, reverberated guitar. Then silence, and more palm mutes. Starts again. And finally, blossoms into a rhythm of marching-band drum beats and perfectly syncopated bass notes. Jade delivers the first words of the album: “your hands were cold, sitting on the but you never felt so…so alone, so out of touch, so far from home. We could all recollect, go somewhere they forget and you don’t know. How to guide the highs and lows. And when it all falls in on itself, you’ve gotta cushion the fall. Well when it all falls in on itself, you know who to call.” And then it happens; an explosion into a wonderfully lush and vibrant chorus, or so you would think. It’s all facade, you see, because Oso Oso have snuck in an even bigger chorus and ending into the masterful album opener that is “Track One, Side A.” Ever since the announcement of the record, I have been waiting for this track to be upgraded to a full-fledged single, but with only one week until release, Jade and company have seemingly held their trump close to the chest. I say kudos to this strategy, as it further surrounds the mystery around a band that is way too talented at the execution of astounding songwriting to not be more well-known.
Among the singles that were released (”Another Night”, “Josephine”, and “Where You’ve Been Hiding”), the stand-out has to be the slow brooding “Where You’ve Been Hiding” which starts slow with a bending and palm-muted guitar riff and Jade’s croons amidst the mix. The song doesn’t reveal its quite clever chorus until about halfway through the song, but it’s well worth it after the build up: “Well I know where you’ve been hiding / all those secrets you’ve been writing down / in that diary you keep, underneath where we sleep / it’s just like dying, but the words won’t come out.” Of the stories on this record, my favorite – and one I’d love to hear more insight about – is the one from “Josephine” which has, presumably, Jade interacting with the titular character: “Josephine, seven years older; was caught off guard when you asked me to come over. Not really sure what we’re hanging out for, but you’re talking in the hall, so I’ll listen through the door.” Again in a brilliant method storytelling and songwriting, the narrative flows beautifully over the almost 4-minute song. Musically, the best part comes about a minute before the close, and interlude of sorts with alternating guitar and a break before the ending riff while gang vocals deliver the chilling line in “and it crawls awayyyy.” It’s just so good, damn.
Maybe it’s my affinity towards similar looking song titles, or my ever-faithful devotion to multi-parters (see Dance Gavin Dance’s “The Robot With Human Hair” series for the best example), but I really enjoy the wordplay going on with the trio of “This Must Be’s” that close out the record. Stylistically they’re individual efforts with personalities as different as night and day; you have the quintessential motif about always ending up at parties even though you hate them in “This Must Be a Place”, the 59-second banger filled with bass slides, overly distorted guitars, and gang vocals of “This Must Be an Entrance”, and finally the acoustic and highly personal ending of “This Must Be My Exit”, but together they’re the success story of the album due to just how talented Oso Oso are at telling a story through clever songwriting. These closing tracks certainly prove that the dual-dynamic of both pop and punk influences, given the right lyricist, can be ultimately more enjoyable than a simple pick-and-choose approach of the genres. If ‘Self-titled’ was a more experimental gesture, then ‘Real Stories’ is its antithesis and counterpart; this is an album crafted with careful expertise and it will definitely pay off in the long run.
Ever accessible and relatable, Oso Oso have strung together a batch of 11 killer emo/punk songs which function as strongly on their own as they do when sequenced together. The narrative ebbs in a third person omniscient, with Jade as their collective voice backed by some stellar and clever vocals to fill out a little more. Perhaps my favorite of these moments is during the chorus of “How It Happened”, where the backing vocals repeat “oh no, oh so” just as Jade croons “I’ve tried it all and I’m oh so tired of everything”, creating the immaculate experience that is the utterance of a band name in their own song. Sure it may seem a tad gimmicky, but you can’t help but be really proud at them for this feat and smile when you realize it, I know I did. The storyteller narrator is definitely something which Jade has mastered in his arsenal of songwriting tactics, and it’s not the typical tropes you see in most washed-up pop punk lyric booklets, they’re real stories…of true people, who probably did kind of look like monsters. (C’mon that was a good one!!). Pay attention to Oso Oso, this record is 2015′s ‘Home, Like Noplace Is There.’ 5/5
Writer’s note: It was my pleasure to conduct an interview with Jade as well, in which I asked him a few questions to key into the writing process and exactly what some of the concepts and lyrics mean on ‘Real Stories of True People Who Kind of Looked Like Monsters.’ For this reason and a few others (the sad fact that Oso Oso aren’t as well known as I would hope so lyrics aren’t available online and my pre-order hasn’t come yet), I cannot do a full lyrical analysis at the time of this writing, nor would it do justice without hearing from the storyteller himself.. So I’ll leave you, the reader, to explore the many stories hidden within this record.